Most everyone knows that the arrival of Johnny Depp in Milwaukee was an example of early success for Film Wisconsin, the public / private non-profit set up to boost film production in the state.
But the Buckley brothers' beach-focused, cheesecake-laden comedy "Jake's How-To" is a feature film that shows how the state's efforts can boost local filmmakers, too.
The brothers -- Whitefish Bay natives -- returned from Los Angeles to make the film here when it became apparent that Brew City would be a much better place to make the movie.
As writer and director Vincent Buckley and his brother (and the film's producer) Kyle, prepare to premiere the film Thursday at the Oriental Theater, we asked them about what sparked the idea for the film and how it was realized.
OMC: Tell us a bit about the movie came to be. Where did the idea come from?
Vincent Buckley: The story is inspired by beach volleyball players from Milwaukee's Bradford Beach. We started playing beach volleyball with them in our late teens, and found them amusing and often ridiculous. I wrote an 11-page comic script called "Jake's How-To" in a comic scripting class while attending the Savannah College of Art and Design when I was 19.
That summer we were planning on shooting a 13-page short film I'd written based on the comic to help raise funding for the feature. I became diabetic, preventing us from shooting it, but I did illustrate the comic -- which you can see at V85.deviantart.com -- when I got out of the hospital.
At a comic book convention in Toronto shortly after, I asked Kyle if he wanted to go to L.A. He quickly decided yes, not long before he would have started his sophomore year at MSOE. In March 2005 I began writing the feature screenplay, and in March 2007 we returned to Milwaukee and began pre-production. I was 21.
OMC: How was it realized? Was it hard to get it all together ... financing, cast, etc.?
Kyle Buckley: Time and pressure, that's how it was realized. Vince and I just went up to every person we knew, and eventually anyone who would listen, and humiliated ourselves asking for investments. Once we realized we could only raise so much -- 18 months into it -- we decided we couldn't shoot in L.A., where we were at the time. Once we knew we had to come home, the budget shrank seven-fold, and suddenly we could make it happen. It was incredibly difficult in pre-production, trying to get in under budget, but we pulled it off because all of our roots and connections are here.
Casting was difficult in a different way. It wasn't quite the test of persistence that raising the money was, and it wasn't like trying to control the chaos of shooting. It was more like staring into a dark void and going, "23 speaking roles?" So we did everything.
We put up hundreds of fliers around the city and in every college's drama department and union. That was highly ineffective. A bunch of actors came through connections, but most effective was the Internet. I believe the three leads ended up coming from ActorsAccess.com, a great site where a few other actors came from too, Craigslist.org, OneSourceTalent.com and a few others basically drove all of our talent, and all-things-considered, we ended up with a very impressive cast.
OMC: Did you face any difficulties filming in Milwaukee? Was it hard to find the the support and the resources you needed?
With Atwater Beach, we ended up getting a parade permit to shoot there. Milwaukee County Parks only wanted us to shoot for eight hours a day -- 14-16 is normal -- while paying a large fee. The woman who allowed us to shoot at the Whitefish Bay Townhomes for free was terrific, but she became worried and confused when we put tin foil over the windows for lighting continuity.
But there were a lot of people who wanted to help, because they find film exciting, since it doesn't happen much in Milwaukee. The owner of (the now-closed) Ardor Pub & Grill on Broadway and Tequila Rita's on Water Street gave us the best food any of the cast and crew had eaten on a film; all for free and throughout filming.
Our high school, Whitefish Bay, loaned us equipment for free. Nikki Folven, one of my sister's past teachers who works for Mary Kay, taught our make-up artists how to apply it and what make-up to buy. I actually became a Mary Kay sales rep to save 50% on the film's make-up costs because of Nikki's advice.
OMC: Tell us a bit about the note at the end of the film thanking MPD for not shutting you down.
KB: It was the last shot of first unit, and we're shooting outside Buckhead Saloon at night, when an undercover car rolls up, turns its lights on, and two rather rough-looking man-bricks -- plainclothes cops -- step out and request an audience with the persons in charge ... us, unfortunately.
Here's the basic conversation:
"Shooting a movie?"
"Got a permit?"
"You need a permit."
(Insert death-glare here)
"But the Film Commission said we didn't."
"Yep. Have a good night. Don't break anything."
"We're not shut down?"
"Do you want to be?"
At which point we thanked them and turned-tail back to the set. They left and we explained to our crew that they came to arrest everyone, but we shipped those thoughts upriver with our silver tongues.
OMC: The film premieres at the Oriental this week. Is that the first public screening?
VB: Yes. Other than a cast and crew screening held prior.
OMC: Will it screen in theaters or is it going directly to DVD?
KB: The DVD comes out on Aug. 14, as well, but if we have enough success at the Oriental, we're already prepared to take "Jake's How-To" to a few major colleges and cities, and based on that success, we're prepared to go even further.
We're releasing the film ourselves; we've yet to find a fair deal with a traditional distributor. So, it's something of a scaled-down version of a platform release. We've done a lot of research, and we know who, what, where, when, why and how to expand the "Jake's How-To" release theatrically across the nation, but since this is such a Milwaukee film, and this is home, we're starting here. Hopefully we can go bigger with the release, but it's all up to the turnout at the Aug. 14 premiere.
OMC: Are there other projects in the works?
VB: Kind of. We don't want to shoot another feature with less than a quarter million (dollars), because we'd likely kill ourselves. It's all about what we can do to get that kind of money.
KB: We've had a few prospective projects that have fallen through, a couple we've decided to come back to later, and a DJ even asked us to do a reality show on him, but there wasn't enough money. We have material ready to go, but that being said, it's really all a matter of, drumroll please... money, of course. That's the only real determining factor.
VB: True, and the success or failure of "Jake's How-To" will likely have a lot to do with that.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.